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Parent Power: Be Engaged in Your School District's Budget Process

By Meryl Ain, Ed.D.

Spring heralds the climax of budget season in many school districts throughout the country. The budget process is the yearly ritual where spending plans for the next school year are proposed, massaged, presented for discussion at meetings, and finally put up for a public vote. All parents who care about their children's education should be actively involved in their district's budget process. But how familiar are you with this yearly rite?

The 2012-2013 budget process is proving to be even more challenging than last year's, when many districts cut deeply into educational programs to keep tax increases down.  Like last year, schools are faced with rising costs, the threat of decreased aid from the states and increasing demand that they keep tax increases to a minimum

Several school systems, such as Atlanta, GA, have already put school-chopping proposals on the table. The latest proposal reduces the number of elementary and middle schools with less than 450 students. The district originally proposed closing 13 schools. But since the process began last fall, thousands of parents have packed meetings, and submitted comments in writing. As a result, several schools were moved off the school-closing list, while some new schools were slated for closure on the current list of 10.

The weak economy is engendering much debate in school districts this year about cost savings. Be aware that your district can put anything on the table to be cut, including full-day kindergarten, sports, electives, music, busing, etc.

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education paints a dreary picture of arts education in the nation.  A casualty of budget cuts and an increased emphasis on math and reading, the report noted that fewer public elementary schools are offering visual arts, dance and drama classes.  Although music classes in most elementary and secondary schools remain constant, they have declined at the country's poorest schools.  This is doubly disturbing in light of a new National Endowment for the Arts Research Report.  It indicated that although high school students on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder tend to not do as well in school as children from more comfortable families, those who participate in the arts achieve as well or better than their wealthier counterparts.

Last June, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed two percent tax cap legislation into law in an effort to provide relief to taxpayers. It will become effective during the 2012-2013 school year, and it will prevent school districts from increasing property taxes by more than two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. This is the first time New York State has ever had a tax cap on property taxes and its importance as a school issue for parents is enormous. The good news for homeowners is that this legislation will limit the amount they pay in school and property taxes. The bad news is that all New York state school districts are worried about how this legislation will impact their finances. Indeed, your district may ask voters to override the cap. Districts will be permitted to propose budgets that exceed the cap if 60 percent of voters agree. 

Parents are their children's best advocates, but you can't be effective unless you are informed. Here is some practical advice to help you navigate the budget process in your school district.

  • Know your school district's budget calendar, which will give you a list of meetings and topics. Attend these meetings if you are available. If you cannot attend, check your district's website for information, and read budget brochures that are mailed to your home. Read the fine print so you will understand if your children's school experience will be impacted. Keep up with local media reports of budget meetings.
  • Know when PTA meetings are held. Your PTA president should have the latest budget information.
  • Know when and where Board of Education meetings are held, attend them, and feel free to voice your opinion during the public participation part of the meeting. You must sign up to speak before the meeting. This is the time when you can join together with other parents to protest proposed reductions that you oppose, such as full-day kindergarten, arts, sports, or increased class size.
  • Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the Board of Education members and the District Clerk. In public school districts, trustees are elected by the residents and should be responsive to their constituents' opinions and problems.
  • board, discuss the topic at PTA meetings, write letters to the board and to the newspapers, and come to board meetings en masse. Impassioned and organized efforts sometimes have the desired results.
  • Make sure you register to vote. Check with the District Clerk for If you are upset by a proposed cut, you may circulate petitions to the procedures and deadlines if you are not sure if you are registered.
  • Remember to vote. If you will be out of town you may request an absentee ballot. Check with the District Clerk for information about absentee ballots, polling places and voting hours.

Posted on April 10, 2012 by Meryl Ain, Ed.D.

Dr. Meryl Ain has worked in several large New York school districts as a central office administrator, teacher, and school building administrator. She writes about education and parenting for several publications and on her blog, You can also follow her on Twitter.

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Permalink   Comments (1)   Send to a Friend

Tags: 2-way communication, *Educational Policy, *School-Family Partnership, PTA - PTO

Posted May 14, 2012 by Eric Schwartz
you say: \"The good news for homeowners is that this legislation will limit the amount they pay in school and property taxes.\"
This is a very common mistake when talking about the Tax Cap. The Tax Cap is a \'levy increase limit\', but does not limit the amount paid in property taxes for two reasons:

1) the tax rate is determined from the total value of all assessments of all towns in a school district (\'full-value\'), which varies independently of the levy increase. So a tax levy can go up 2%, and a tax rate can go up 8%.

2) an individual property\'s assessment change can greatly affect one\'s property tax bill, regardless of levy increase or tax rate increase

The Cap can provide marginal decrease to an increase, but is only one factor in the complex system of real-property taxes.


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